Last week, when a landmark nutrition study came out in The New England Journal of Medicine, many dieters were probably saying "Duh." That's because researchers finally confirmed what we all kind of knew: the way to lose weight is to eat less. No, really, it doesn't matter how you mix and match your carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The best diet, researchers found, was one that reduced calorie intake dramatically (but to no less than 1,200 calories everyday).
But here's the catch. Figuring out which dieting tricks and tactics boost the kind of willpower you need to turn down those fries, Oreos or piña coladas is far more complicated than just counting calories. And, it turns out, many of the weight-loss strategies that inspire women won't work for men—and vice versa. That's because dudes diet differently. Here's why:
1. Guys can just say "No" to problem foods
Earlier this year, the Brookhaven National Laboratory conducted a study where they presented male and female subjects their favorite foods, then monitored their brain activity using positron emission tomography (PET) scans. Ladies, the gents beat you: they were able to suppress their hunger and their desire to eat, while brain activity among the women showed that many continued to crave their favorite foods, even after being told to think of something else. In layman's terms, we call this "emotional eating," something that trainer and American Dietetic Association spokesman Jim White says is an "uphill battle" for his female clients, but not the male ones. The guys must be too busy thinking of something else—or nothing at all?
2. But they are dumb when it comes to nutrition
When a woman decides to go on a diet, the first stop she'll likely make is the healthier aisles of her local grocery store. But not men, says White. "With women, they're very eager to learn," he says. "They look for nutrients, read food labels and focus on healthy cooking and healthy meals." Guys can take a page from this book by learning how to cook or doing what White calls a "grocery-store tour" to familiarize yourself with what's healthy and what's junk. Just because it's chicken doesn't mean it's healthy. If that confuses you, head to the grocery store—or ask a woman nearby.
3. They compete to lose
When you think about Curves, Weight Watchers or other dieting programs aimed at women, they're all focused on fostering cooperation, holding hands and achieving goals within a supportive group. For men, losing weight is a sport. "If I want to goad a man on to losing weight, I'll do it in a competitive way," says Dr. Robert Vogel, the author of a health plan called "The Pritikin Edge." "He'll bet a friend he can lose more weight, whereas women will both agree to buy new dresses when they reach their goal." His hunch is backed up in research, where men performed better in incentive studies than women when they earned money for every pound lost. Sign me up for that.
4. Guys don't care as much (but you already knew that)
Studies show that many men tend to diet for health reasons or health scares, rather than appearance. Women are more likely to diet because of social pressures. Vogel advises the National Football League, and as such, sees many big-bellied, 300-pound offensive linemen pass through his office—all of whom remain happy about their size and the job it earned them. A woman, on the flipside, tends to compare herself to her peers. "You never really see a 300-pound woman who is prideful about her weight," he says, adding that women "bear the burden of social ostracism." Bottom line, it's less stigmatizing to be overweight if you're a guy. That means men are less likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies and women are more likely to obsess about the number on the scale.
5. Muscles domatter
If a husband and wife start on the same gym regimen, he's likely to lose more weight at first because he has more muscle mass. He's also more likely to attack a weight loss goal by exercising. White says that, for men, the gym is a "business plan," where they will start coming four to five times a week, "really pumping the iron." So here's one area where woman can take a hint from their hunks, without throwing out that "I want to be skinny, not muscular" excuse. "The truth is, you can't lose weight and keep it off without an exercise plan," Vogel adds. And that, along with the whole calorie-counting thing, is one dieting rule that applies to both genders.